Scouting Reports On Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Jung Hoo Lee And Foreign MLB Prospects To Watch In 2024


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Since the Dodgers signed Chan Ho Park out of Korea and Hideo Nomo out of Japan, the two Asian nations have produced a steady stream of MLB talent for nearly 30 years.

The story of MLB since the 1990s can’t be told without the indelible impact of Japanese superstars, from Nomo to Ichiro to Yu Darvish and, of course, Shohei Ohtani (not to mention Hideki Matsui, Masahiro Tanaka, Kazuhiro Sasaki and many others). The list of Korean players to make their mark in MLB is plenty long in its own right, with Park, Byung-Hyun Kim, Shin-Soo Choo, Hyun-Jin Ryu and, most recently, Ha-Seong Kim all starring in their respective times.

It’s been more than just standout native players who have emerged from Asia. Cuban stars Yuli Gurriel and Adolis Garcia both played in Japan before making the jump to MLB, as did Alfonso Soriano.

Due to the restrictions of the international posting system, typically only a few top foreign players are eligible to sign out of Japan and Korea in a given year. This year, however, is a notable exception.

The class of players coming over from Asia for the 2024 season is arguably the deepest ever. Seven players from Asia have either been posted or are eligible to sign as free agents this offseason, including recent MVP’s in both Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization. This year’s class includes potential All-Star starters, decorated closers and an outfield prodigy, all ready to make an impact in MLB from Day 1.

Here are scouting reports on the seven foreign professionals from the Asian leagues eligible to sign this offseason. All statistics are through the end of the 2023 season.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP

Born: Aug. 17, 1998. B-T:. R-R. HT: 5-10. WT: 176.

Track Record: In the long history of successful Japanese pitchers, none have been as decorated as Yamamoto. A former infielder who began focusing on pitching in high school, Yamamoto made his Nippon Professional Baseball debut at 18 years old in 2017 and quickly blossomed into Japan’s premier pitcher. He posted a 1.82 ERA over seven seasons as Orix’s ace and put together arguably the greatest three-year stretch by a pitcher in NPB history from 2021-23. He won three straight Sawamura Awards, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award, and three straight Pacific League MVP Awards, the first player to do that since Ichiro Suzuki. He showed his stuff played against MLB hitters during standout showings at the Tokyo Olympics and 2023 World Baseball Classic, helping Japan win gold medals in both, and became the first pitcher in Japanese history to throw a no-hitter in consecutive seasons. Yamamoto fittingly finished his NPB career in record-breaking fashion in the Japan Series. Pitching in Game 6 with Orix facing elimination, Yamamoto pitched a complete game with 14 strikeouts, breaking the series strikeout record held by Yu Darvish.

Scouting Report: Yamamoto is undersized at 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, but he’s strong in his frame and possesses a powerful arsenal he holds deep into games. His fastball sits 94-96 mph and touches 99 with little effort out of a clean, athletic delivery. He has a fast arm and commands his fastball in all quadrants of the strike zone. Yamamoto’s primary secondary pitch is a plus, 88-91 mph splitter with huge depth that induces weak ground balls and empty swings. He commands his splitter exceptionally well and has a good feel for when to use it. Yamamoto’s tight-spinning, 76-78 mph rainbow curveball is another plus pitch that freezes both lefthanded and righthanded hitters. He didn’t throw it often in Japan, but it projects to be a larger part of his repertoire in MLB. He rounds out his arsenal with an above-average, low-90s cutter/short slider that stays off of barrels. Yamamoto ties his stuff together with plus control and an aggressive, attacking mentality. He pitches with a chip on his shoulder and challenges hitters in the strike zone with no fear. He has exceptional feel for mixing his pitches and has the aptitude to make quick in-game adjustments. Yamamoto’s size yields concerns about his durability, but he’s pitched at least 170 innings each of the last three seasons and has a clean health record. He threw 138 pitches in his final start in the Japan Series and reached 98 mph in the ninth inning.

The Future: Yamamoto will have to adjust from pitching once a week in Japan to every five days in MLB, but like Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideo Nomo before him, he has the stuff and aptitude to successfully make that transition. He projects to be a No. 2 starter and has a chance to contend for Cy Young Awards.

BA Grade: 70/Medium

Scouting Grades

Fastball: 60. Curveball: 60. Slider: 55. Splitter: 60. Control: 60

Jung Hoo Lee, OF

Born: Aug. 20, 1998. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-1. WT:.189.

Track Record: Lee is the son of Korean baseball icon and former Korea Baseball Organization MVP Jong-Beom Lee, who was nicknamed “Son of the Wind” for his legendary speed. The younger Lee emerged early as a baseball prodigy and skipped the Korean minor leagues to jump straight from high school to the KBO. He set a KBO rookie record for hits as an 18 year old, winning rookie of the year, and blossomed into a superstar in his 20s. Lee hit .340 over six seasons with the Kiwoom franchise, starred for Korea at the Tokyo Olympics and 2023 World Baseball Classic and won the 2022 KBO MVP award after batting .349 with a career-high 23 home runs and 113 RBIs. He played only 86 games in 2023 after he suffered a fractured left ankle in July and had season-ending surgery.

Scouting Report: Lee is an exemplary hitter with a fast lefthanded swing and elite-hand eye coordination. He identifies pitches quickly and consistently gets the barrel to the ball, driving hittable pitches on a line to all fields. He controls the strike zone with a mature, patient approach, hits both lefties and righties and makes consistent contact against both fastballs and breaking balls. He has the athleticism and bat speed to adjust to higher velocities in MLB and projects to be an above-average-to-plus hitter once he settles in. Lee doesn’t hit the ball overly hard, but he has enough strength to yank balls over the fence to his pullside. He primarily projects to rack up doubles while hitting 10-15 home runs per season. Nicknamed “Grandson of the Wind” in homage to his father, Lee is more of an above-average runner than a true burner. He has solid instincts and runs good routes in center field, but his range is a tick short, particularly on balls hit over his head. He has reliable hands and projects to be an average defender in center field, though he may have trouble in more expansive outfields. He has fringy arm strength that will force him to left field if he has to move.

The Future: Lee projects to be a leadoff-hitting outfielder who hits for a high average and gets on base at a high clip. He’ll be 25 most of next season and still has his prime years ahead of him.

BA Grade: 55/High

Scouting Grades

Hit: 60. Power: 45. Speed: 55. Fielding: 50.  Arm: 45.

Shota Imanaga, LHP

Born: Sept. 1, 1993. B-T: L-L. HT: 5-10. WT: 190.

Track Record: Imanaga starred as one of Japan’s top college pitchers at Komazawa University and was drafted by Yokohama in the first round in 2015. He made his NPB debut one year later and quickly emerged as one of Japan’s preeminent lefthanders. He posted a 3.18 ERA over eight seasons with the BayStars, pitched a no-hitter in 2022 and led the Central League with 174 strikeouts in 2023. He started for Japan against Team USA in the gold-medal game of the 2023 World Baseball Classic and pitched two innings to earn the win while striking out Paul Goldschmidt and Cedric Mullins.

Scouting Report: Imanaga is a crafty lefthander with a good feel for pitching. His fastball sits 89-93 mph with solid riding life as a starter and touches 94-95 in short bursts. His main secondary pitch is an above-average, 82-85 mph splitter with late cut that induces ground balls. Imanaga’s success in MLB will hinge largely on the development of his slider. It’s currently a fringy offering at 80-83 mph that stays on one plane and gets barreled in the strike zone. He’s flashed the ability to throw it firmer and get chase swings, but it needs improvement to become an average pitch. He also has a below-average, 71-74 mph curveball he’ll throw as a change-of-pace offering. Imanaga mostly throws to his glove-side and can get one-sided in his repertoire, but he mixes and matches well to keep opponents off-balance. He has above-average control and keeps everything around the plate.

The Future: Imanaga’s feel for pitching gives him a chance to be a No. 4 or 5 starter. He may fit best as a swingman or bulk reliever on a contending team.

BA Grade: 50/Medium

Scouting Grades

Fastball: 50. Curveball: 40. Slider: 45. Splitter: 55. Control: 55

Yariel Rodriguez, RHP

Born: March 10, 1997. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 214.

Track Record: Rodriguez was a soft-tossing starter with an 87-90 mph fastball in Cuba’s Serie Nacional before blossoming with a move to Japan. His stuff increased markedly over three seasons with Chunichi and he emerged as one of NPB’s top setup men with a 1.15 ERA in 56 appearances in 2022. He returned to starting for Cuba in the 2023 World Baseball Classic and delivered a pair of solid outings to raise his profile as a starter. He did not return to Chunichi for the regular season and spent the year training in preparation for a move to MLB.

Scouting Report: Rodriguez is an aggressive power pitcher whose stuff and performance keep improving. His four-seam fastball is now a plus pitch that sits 94-96 mph and touches 100 with natural cut. He also has a 93-96 mph two-seamer with hard armside run. Rodriguez’s main secondary pitch is an above-average, 83-86 mph slider with vertical bite and solid depth. He primarily throws his fastballs and slider and is able to dominate with them. Rodriguez lacks touch on his softer offerings. He has inconsistent feel for his fringy splitter and below-average curveball and rarely throws them. Rodriguez is a volatile, highly emotional pitcher prone to overthrowing and struggles to throttle down. He has an effortful delivery and arm action and fringy control overall.

The Future: Rodriguez will get a chance to start, but his arsenal and demeanor fit best in relief. He projects to be a hard-throwing but inconsistent No. 5 starter or seventh-inning setup man.

BA Grade: 45/Medium

Scouting Grades

Fastball: 60. Curveball: 40. Slider: 55. Splitter: 45. Control: 45

Yuki Matsui, LHP

Born: Oct. 30, 1995. B-T: L-L. HT: 5-8. WT: 163.

Track Record: Matsui first rose to prominence in high school when he set a Koshien summer tournament record with 22 strikeouts in a game. He was drafted in the first round of the NPB draft the following year and debuted in NPB at 18. After beginning his career as a starter, Matsui shifted to relief and became one of Japan’s most decorated closers. He recorded 236 saves in nine seasons with Rakuten, led the Pacific League in saves three times and won a gold medal with Japan at the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

Scouting Report: Matsui is undersized at 5-foot-8, 163 pounds and throws with maximum effort in short stints. His average fastball sits 91-93 mph and touches 95 with riding life up in the zone. His diving 87-90 mph splitter is an above-average pitch that gets ground balls from both lefhanded and righthanded hitters. Matsui mostly throws those two pitches, but he also has an above-average, sharp mid-80s slider that plays against hitters on both sides of the plate. He rounds out his arsenal with a fringy, 75-78 mph curveball. Matsui struggles to control his effort at times and is prone to sailing fastballs. He posted a career-low walk rate last season but has demonstrated below-average control over his career.

The Future: Matsui projects to be a low-to-mid leverage reliever handles both lefties and righties. He’s ready to join a big league bullpen on Opening Day.

BA Grade: 45/Medium

Scouting Grades

Fastball: 45. Curveball: 45. Slider: 55. Splitter: 55. Control: 40

Naoyuki Uwasawa, RHP

Born: Feb. 6, 1994. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 194.

Track Record: Uwasawa began his career as a rotation-mate of Shohei Ohtani with the Nippon Ham Fighters and emerged as their top starter after Ohtani departed for MLB. Despite a lack of big stuff, Uwasawa blossomed into a three-time All-Star atop Nippon Ham’s rotation and had one of his best seasons in 2023. He went 9-9, 2.96 in a career-high 170 innings and was posted after the season.

Scouting Report: Uwasawa is a finesse righthander who relies on command and changing speeds. His fastball sits just 89-91 mph and tops out at 93, but he effectively locates it on the edges of the strike zone to avoid hard contact. His most-used secondary is a vertical 80-82 mph slider with decent depth, while his mid-80s splitter with diving action is an average pitch he leans on to get outs. He also mixes in a looping, below-average mid-70s curveball, below-average 85-88 mph cutter and fringy 80-82 mph changeup. Uwasawa mostly relies on keeping hitters guessing with his deep arsenal and inducing soft contact. He doesn’t miss many bats and averaged just 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings last year. He is a good athlete with a fluid delivery and clean arm action and has above-average control.  

The Future: Uwasawa’s lack of stuff will be tested in MLB. He projects to be a low-end No. 5 or depth starter who relies on hitting his spots to be effective.

BA Grade: 40/Medium

Scouting Grades

Fastball: 40. Curveball: 40. Slider: 45. Cutter: 40. Splitter: 50. Changeup: 45. Control: 55

Woo Suk Go, RHP

Born: Aug. 6, 1998. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 198.

Track Record: Go debuted in the Korea Baseball Organization as a teenager and quickly emerged as a top closer with premium velocity for the league. He recorded 139 saves in five seasons for the LG Twins after becoming their closer, including a league-leading 42 saves in 2022, and represented Korea at the Tokyo Olympics. Go missed the 2023 World Baseball Classic with shoulder and neck stiffness and missed a month during the regular season with a lower back injury, but he returned to help the Twins win their first Korean Series championship in 29 years. He closed out the title with a perfect ninth inning in the clincher.

Scouting Report: Go is a strong, physical righthander with power stuff. His fastball sits 93-95 mph and touches 98 with late movement at its best. He lacks deception in his delivery and his fastball flattens out at times, but he is still able to beat hitters with his pure power. Go’s best secondary pitch is a 79-83 mph downer curveball that flashes average with late bite, though it’s inconsistent. He also has a below-average, low-90s cutter that works as a chase pitch but gets hit hard in the zone. Go is an aggressive competitor and goes after hitters with his fastball, but he tends to spray it and has fringy control overall. He is married to star outfielder Jung Hoo Lee’s younger sister and decided to come to MLB in conjunction with his brother-in-law.

The Future: Go’s fastball gives him a chance to be a low-leverage reliever, but he needs to sharpen his secondaries to become more. He’ll be 25 most of next season and still has room for growth.

BA Grade: 40/High

Scouting Grades

Fastball: 55. Curveball: 45. Cutter: 40. Control: 45

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